Alba Ashby, 19, has just suffered a horrible and hurtful humiliation, and finds herself inexplicably drawn to a magical looking house on the end of Hope Street in Cambridge, England. She is greeted by Peggy Abbot, a beautiful and prescient woman of 82, who welcomes her, identifying the house as one women come to when they have run out of hope. Peggy offers to let Alba stay in the house for ninety-nine nights, rent free, and then she must go.
Alba loves the house, thinking of it as the home she used to dream of as an unloved little girl:
“Somewhere soft and loving, where the walls breathe, the garden hides your secrets, the inhabitants life your spirits and the kitchen soothes your soul.”
Although there have been many women using the house over the years (and their portraits adorn the walls), right now there are only two other women in residence besides Alba and Peggy (the House Mistress). Carmen Viera, about 30, is tall and voluptuous, but Alba (who has a bit of second sight herself) can see that underneath Carmen’s beautiful exterior, she is bruised and scarred. Greer, 39, has been dumped by her fiancé for a younger woman and is in a career slump. Even Peggy is always protesting a bit too loudly that the house is all she needs. None of the four of them will admit what it is they really want from life.
As everyone gets to know one another, their secrets gradually unfold, and as the days progress, the women finally get the courage to take control of their own destinies.
Evaluation: Imagine one of those women’s romance books about various strangers meeting at a cooking school or on an airplane, throw in serendipitous interactions and magical realism, and you have the plot of this whimsical book. This is a charming, feel-good story, which all of us need from time to time!
Published in hardback by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013, and in paperback by Penguin Books, 2014
Note: On the author’s blog, she offers this picture of what the House on Hope Street might look like, writing:
“Guess what happened today? Something rather magical. I found the House at the End of Hope Street! It wasn’t actually on Hope Street (it was in Choorley Wood and belonged to my lovely friend Tanya’s mum) but it was heaven. Even before I stepped into the garden, I knew. It’s a strange and incredible thing, spending years creating a place in your imagination and then seeing it made manifest in real life.”